“I’m a different kind of happy now.”
This is the final phrase we hear Mauno bassist and vocalist Eliza Niemi utter on her debut solo EP Vinegar. Within the EP’s brief closer, “Different,” Niemi, fighting her way through a tangle of hushed voices, rushes through the verses that precede this realization as if running towards the glorious, culminating understanding that is at the heart of her EP.
Before arriving here, Niemi grapples with love, heartache, and anxiety. On the standout song “If My Songs Made You Cry,” the possibility of a romantic relationship gnaws at Niemi’s mind — “But if my songs made you cry, then doesn’t that mean that you love me?” she wonders. The next track, “Who Needs Headphones” is a celebration of friendship and of the enormity of the love that you feel for them. Later on “Exercise,” a past relationship needs to be exorcised and Niemi is hopeful for renewal, singing, “Soon all my hair that you’ve touched will be gone and I’ll start writing happier songs.”
Vinegar’s sparse instrumentals allow these words to unfurl in peace. In an uncommon and delightful pairing, Niemi plays only a Casio keyboard and cello, although she is also joined by Evan Cartwright on drums for half of the EP’s tracks. Throughout, the plucked notes of Niemi’s cello mimic her vocal melodies and vividly punctuate every word she sings. The keyboard’s utterances — electronic drum beats and chord progressions — are lighter interjections. The playful waltzing keyboard melody on “Oh No,” for example, adds a cheekiness that makes me think of my favourite webcomic whose recurring punchline is the same as Niemi’s song title.
Despite its title, Vinegar has no traces of sourness. Instead, Niemi openly offers tender contemplations as she journeys towards happiness.